December 1, 2015

Today in History: Charles Julius Guiteau

Guiteau letter

Today in History–December 31–the Library of Congress features presidential assassin Charles Julius Guiteau. On this date in 1881, Guiteau penned a New Year's letter to his jailer while awaiting trial for the assassination of President James Garfield.  On July 2, 1881 Guiteau had shot the newly elected president who died seventy-nine days later of infections from the bullet wound. Guiteau's trial was a national sensation and one of the first insanity pleas entered in a court of law. Discover more … [Read more...]

Primary Source Learning: Chicago Anarchists & the Haymarket Affair

The Anarchist Riot in Chicago - A Dynamite Bomb exploding among the police

Overview Haymarket Affair Digital Collection—presents original manuscripts, broadsides, photographs, prints and artifacts regarding the Haymarket Affair, an 1886 conflict between labor protestors and members of the Chicago police force. Materials document the events leading up to the May 1886 riot, the arrest and trial of those accused of throwing a bomb that killed several police officers, and the appeal process for those convicted of the bombing, including the eventual pardon of those … [Read more...]

Today in History: Impeachment

U. S. Senate. Impeachment of the President Admit the bearer April 1 1868

Today in History–May 16–the Library of Congress features presidential impeachments. On this day in 1868, the U.S. Senate failed by one vote to convict President Andrew Johnson of "high crimes and misdemeanors," under the eleventh article of impeachment.  The second trial of a U.S. president—President Bill Clinton—on articles of impeachment occurred in January and February of 1999. Learn more about these presidential impeachment trials by visiting the Today in History section, then click the … [Read more...]

Learning from the Source: Close Reading in Service of a Cause

Harper's Ferry insurrection

Activity overview Close reading is an opportunity to read and reread thoughtfully and with purpose. By breaking down the analysis of texts and other primary sources into distinct chunks, you can increase rigor and help students more easily climb the staircase of complexity required by the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). In this primary source activity students will look closely and critically at images in conjunction with historical and contemporary texts. They will compare and contrast … [Read more...]

Today in History: John Peter Zenger Trial

Andrew Hamilton defending John Peter Zenger in court

Today in History–November 27–the Library of Congress features the trial of newspaper man, John Peter Zenger. The trial judge, James Delancey, was born on this day in 1703. In the 1730s Zenger published articles in the New York Weekly Journal exposing the political machinations of Governor William Cosby who, in turn, charged Zenger with seditious libel. Zenger's lawyer, Andrew Hamilton, successfully argued to the jury in 1735 that because the articles contained verifiable facts, they could not be … [Read more...]

Today in History: Andrew Johnson

Andrew Johnson, full-length portrait, standing, facing right, with table and chair

Today in History–December 29–the Library of Congress features Andrew Johnson, born on this date in 1808. Learn more about our nation’s 17th president (1865-69), a self-educated career politician and infamous for being one of two presidents impeached by the House of Representatives (both were acquitted in trials by the Senate) by visiting the Today in History section then click the links below to access more stories and primary sources about President Johnson and his impeachment … [Read more...]

Featured Image: Pierce examining a witness–the good Samaritan

Hoppin, Augustus & Strong, Thomas. "Scene in a New Hampshire court.--General Pierce examining a witness. Scene in a New Hampshire village.--Pierce the good Samaritan." 1852. Summary: Two humorous incidents supposedly from the life of Franklin Pierce. On the left, a repartee wherein Pierce, the distinguished trial lawyer, is embarrassed by an ignorant witness. Armed with pages of notes, Pierce addresses the witness accusingly, "You are sworn to tell the truth, Sir, and how dare you say you carried that bureau out of the house, without assistance, when you know it takes three men to lift it?" Behind Pierce is a chair, several books on the floor beside it, and a table with several more volumes. The witness is on a small stand at left, with a spittoon on the floor before him. The witness replies, "Wal, General, I "did" carry that bureau without help, and I did'nt faint either, as you did, before that battle in Mexico." He refers to the Battle of Churubusco in the Mexican War when Pierce, weak from a wound suffered in a previous encounter, fainted and was carried from the field. According to the text below, the witness's response is followed by "Laughter in the court," and "Pierce sits down in confusion." Behind Pierce is a row of amused spectators or jurors. Above them, on the far wall, is a large statue of Justice. At right is a high bench with two men, probably the judge and recorder. The second scene takes place on a cobblestoned street. On a pile of rocks at left sits a wailing urchin, behind whom stand three other ragged boys with candy sticks. On the right stands Franklin Pierce, reaching into his pocket with a look of concern on his face. Pierce: "Hallo, boy what are you crying about?" Boy: "them three boys is a eating sticks of candy, and I've no money to buy any. Hoo! Hoo!" Pierce: "I swow that's a hard case. See, boy, you're a stranger to me but I've a benevolent heart and cannot bear to see any one in distress without helping them. So, here's a cent for you, buy a stick of candy and remember to vote for Pierce, if ever he is nominated for President."

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Selecting Primary Sources: Considering Historical Context

American Variety Stage

Understanding historical context is an important element when considering why a primary source was created. The Teaching with the Library of Congress blog outlines characteristics to look for when selecting primary sources that students will be able to place in historical context. For more help providing historical context, look in the Teacher's Guides in the primary source sets and the American Memory Collection Connections (please note that those collections marked with teaching resources are … [Read more...]